You may well have missed it, but “hypermiling” was voted as the best new word of the year in 2008 by the New Oxford American Dictionary. Even though the vast majority of my writing over the last 8 years has been about the American auto industry I’d never come across the term “hypermiling” until I was asked to write about it here. In fact, it’s really just a formalised name for what many of us do already or at least a more extreme version of what most of us do when we’re driving.
What exactly is “hypermiling?”
Hypermiling is an extreme form of energy-efficient driving that can be practised in any sort of vehicle, regardless of what kind of fuel it uses. In its mildest form, hypermiling is just what many of us do which is to drive in ways that maximise fuel economy. It could involve things as simple as making sure your tyres are at the correct pressure and that your vehicle is well maintained and regularly serviced, but some of the more “enthusiastic” hypermilers go to much more extreme lengths.
Like many things in life, however, you can have too much of a good thing and some hypermiling techniques are even banned in some countries as they are considered to be dangerous, such as coasting and drafting, which we’ll get to a little later.
Some people embrace hypermiling to such an extent that it’s almost like a sport, or even a religion. Plenty of enthusiastic hypermilers keep extensive records of their performance and achievements and share them online with like-minded people. But even if you don’t want to get fanatical about hypermiling yourself there are plenty of methods hypermilers employ that make good sense for everyday driving and for helping you get better fuel economy.
I’m going to break hypermiling techniques down into four categories of everyday, advanced, obsessive and extreme. The first techniques are the ones we can all adopt in our everyday driving to get better fuel economy from our vehicles, save a little money and pollute a little less.
Look after your vehicle
There are plenty of reasons why you should look after your vehicle such as for reliability and maximising its resale value, but a well maintained and regularly serviced vehicle will also be more fuel-efficient.
Make sure your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure as under-inflated or over-inflated tyres can make your vehicle use more fuel.
Lose unnecessary weight
One of the best ways of making any vehicle more efficient is to make it as light as possible and in motorsport, they go to extreme lengths to reduce vehicle weight. In terms of your everyday driving, this could mean leaving at home anything you don’t need with you at that time such as golf clubs, a pushchair, tools and bags.
Don’t drive at all
One of the most basic and fundamental beliefs of the most committed hypermilers is to avoid driving at all if you can. If your journey is a short one and it can be done on foot or on a bike instead, what better way is there of saving fuel than to not use any in the first place?
Route planning is a technique that can be as basic and easy or as complex and obsessive as you want to make it. In its simplest form, route planning could mean choosing a route where you are unlikely to come across traffic jams, but more extreme route planning can include choosing roads based on the opportunity they offer for some of the more extreme fuel-saving driving techniques.
Watch your speed
Keeping your speed down is an obvious and easy way to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy, especially on motorways. Driving at 60mph instead of 70mph will deliver significantly better fuel economy.
The more aerodynamic your vehicle is the more fuel-efficient it will be. Although you can’t do anything about your car’s design you can remove things like roof boxes and bike racks when not being used and even keeping your windows closed can make a difference.
Spare the air conditioning
Turn off the air conditioning if you can. Believe it or not, using your vehicle’s air conditioning can reduce your fuel economy by as much as 10 percent.
There are lots of ways you can drive differently from how you probably do at the moment that will improve your fuel economy significantly. The key to fuel-efficient driving is smoothness. Be gentle with the throttle and try to minimise the amount of braking you have to do. You should also anticipate the road ahead by looking as far as possible so you can adjust your speed in plenty of time so you don’t find yourself having to slam on the brakes or accelerate away aggressively.
A lot of modern cars have an auto stop/start function that turns the engine off when the vehicle is stationary, but if your car doesn’t have this feature, you can do it yourself by remembering to turn the engine off when you’re stationary.
Where you park can make a difference to your hypermiling efforts. Choose a space where you can just drive away rather than one where you might need to do a lot of manoeuvring to get out. Also, in winter you could park facing the sun so it defrosts your windscreen and may even heat your vehicle interior a little to reduce the need for the heated. In summer, however, you should park in a shaded area to keep the interior temperature down and reduce the need for air conditioning.
Seriously committed hypermilers will keep extremely detailed records of their mileage, fuel usage, routes, prices paid for fuel and more. But even if you don’t go to the extremes, it could still be useful to keep some sort of records so you can gauge how well you’re doing.
Watch your footwear
It’s also suggested that you wear lightly soled shoes when driving as you’ll then have a better feel for the pedals that will allow you to drive more smoothly when accelerating and braking.
Using engine oil of low viscosity (but still conforming to your manufacturer’s recommended requirements) can improve your fuel economy. Thinner engine oils reduce the friction of the engine components, and many hypermilers choose high-grade fully synthetic oils to help maximise economy.
Coasting is a technique that sometimes gives hypermiling a bad name. Putting a car into neutral and letting the engine idle when going downhill will save fuel, but it also reduces the amount of control you have over the vehicle and increases the time it will take you to react to the unexpected.
Forced Auto Stop
Forced Auto Stop (or FAS as hardcore hypermilers refer to it) is an even more extreme version of coasting where the engine is turned off completely. This can be monumentally dangerous as turning off your engine can cut power to braking and steering systems and there’s even the possibility of the steering lock being engaged.
Drafting is common in motor racing, bike racing and even speed skating, and here in the UK it’s probably better known as slipstreaming. This is where a vehicle travels close up behind another vehicle in its slipstream to minimise the wind resistance. It certainly works to reduce fuel consumption, but doing this on public roads is stupidly dangerous and should not even be considered.
The more extreme forms of hypermiling are not for everyone and some of the techniques are actually dangerous. However, there’s a lot to like about some of the more moderate techniques, and who doesn’t want to get more miles per gallon?